Myself and my partner tried eating using a ketogenic breakdown of macros. We stayed in only a slight calorie deficit (mine was around 200 calories, at most, below maintenance). This is our experience with it.
Most people know what a ketogenic diet is. For those who don't, it's an extremely high intake of fat, a moderate intake of protein, and an extremely low intake of carbohydrates. It's strange, explaining it to anyone is basically going against all the rules of society's understanding of nutrition and what is deemed healthy. I ate a lot of fat (in both the saturated and unsaturated forms, but an emphasis on those unsaturated forms such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) and took on additional electrolytes.
Do bear in mind we were both intermittent fasting, using the 16:8 protocol. This will have helped us get into ketosis a lot easier than just following a ketogenic diet. We were also calorie counting (we are a bit meticulous, I know). So, we were not JUST on a keto diet.
Basically, ketosis is a state in which your body uses fat as a predominant source of energy. Normally it is carbohydrates. Ketosis mimics the state of being fasted. When fasted the body will burn fat and release ketones as an energy substrate, as there will be no carbohydrate reserves to use for fuel. Ketosis is normally described as having a blood ketones level of anywhere between 0.5 to 3 mmol/L.
So first of all, here is the macro breakdown we have been following; after making sure we take on 2g of protein per kg of bodyweight, 65-75% of the rest of our calorie intake will be from fats, and 5-10% will be from carbs. I was on a slight deficit with my calories, as was my partner.
My daily total calorie intake was 2000 calories.
With my bodyweight when I started at about 75kg, I ate 150g of protein. 1g of protein is equal to 4 calories, so 150 x 4 = 600 calories or 30%.
My fat intake then works out as 65%, as 75% would be more than 100% (well done for working that out). 65% of 2000 calories is 1300. As 1g of fat is equal to 9 calories, that is around 144g of fat.
With only 5% left for carbs, I ate 100 calories of carbs. Carbs are the same energy value as protein at 4 calories per gram. So at most I would have 25g of carbs. Most often, from what I have read and understand, making sure you are eating no more than 20g to 30g of carbs should make sure an individual is in ketosis.
So not many carbs at all.
Here's are some of the main points for Keto:
1. Eat very little carbs. This will effect people in different ways, so you'll need to find the amount of carbs that work for you and still keep you in ketosis. 20g of carbs a day usually is what is recommended across the board.
2. You will feel tired and unenergetic for the first couple of weeks as your body moves over from burning carbs as a predominant source, to fat. Try to ride this wave. I didn't experience it, but some people refer to this period as getting something called the 'keto-flu'. Performance in the gym will dip in this time. It will eventually come back up to baseline and eventually should surpass where you were in roughly 2-3 weeks.
3. You may experience a metallic taste and bad breath, but that does go away after a while.
4. Take on extra magnesium, potassium and sodium. A simple electrolyte supplement will do this. I used an electrolyte supplement and have also dissolved 2-3g of salt into a mug of hot water at times. You'll need these minerals to not only to help retain some water but also help with your heart and muscles. I have experienced my heart beating really hard, feeling dizzy and my blood pressure dropping dramatically. It's not fun! This is a real big downside to the keto diet. If you get into this state, I'd suggest taking on salt or an electrolyte supplement immediately, this normally sorts it out pretty quickly. I've found since taking electrolytes as well as salt daily, it has gotten this much more under control and haven't experienced it for quite some time now that I have done this regularly.
5. Because you'll be losing carbohydrates in the process and not restoring it, you will lose A LOT of water weight initially. Bear that in mind if you step on the scales. An initial dramatic weight loss will be due to water loss.
6. Your food volume will most likely go down, for the simple fact that fat has a lot of calories (9 calories per gram) when compared to carbs (4 calories per gram) and protein (also 4 calories per gram). Because you will be eating 65-75% of your total caloric intake with fat, it means the actual amount of food will likely decrease.
7. Yes, still eat vegetables, but keep in mind they will contain carbohydrates. Fibre will help off-set this, so also bear that in mind. I'll list out good vegetables for you after this list. I have found I still have regular bowel movements (in case you were wondering...). Despite not having very much fibre in my diet.
8. Space out your eating, as mentioned in point 6, you'll be eating less volumes of food. It's very easy to eat almost all your calories in a morning.
9. You can be safe with basically sticking to drinking water. Have tea and coffee too, that's fine, keep milk to a minimum though (contains a lot of lactose which can take you out of ketosis).
10. As mentioned above, avoid milk. It will take you out of ketosis, despite it being made up mostly of protein and fat, it does contain too much lactose.
11. Don't eat too little protein, but also, don't eat too much. Normally what is suggested is 20-30% of your total calorie intake consist of protein. This will make sure excess protein doesn't get turned into glucose and take you out of ketosis.
12. Yes it's kind of weird. You're going to be going against all rationale of the 'suggested' nutrition of the masses. I.e. Lots of fats, lots of salt, not much fibre. It does take a bit of getting used to in the head. Saturated fats are fine to consume, just make sure you are also consuming monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats also (fish oils, avocados, walnuts, olive oil etc all have these 'healthy' fats).
13. Anything that has medium chain triglycerides (MCT) is supposed to help you get into ketosis. The only food I personally know of that has that in is coconut oil. You can buy MCT oils, we have some but I haven't tried it yet.
How do you know if you're in ketosis?
To know if you are in ketosis is tricky. There are various methods, and none of them are exact. Breath, urine and bloods. I personally have taken my bloods a few times, it's supposed to be the more accurate measure. You are normally considered in ketosis if you have a bloods reading of between 0.5-3 mmol of ketones in the blood. The most I have ever measured is 0.5 mmol/L. This doesn't mean I am in a low end of ketosis, but could mean a myriad of things. For me as an inidividual I could be using up the ketones (they are an energy source) at a similar rate to which they are being produced, which is my theory as to why I always get a low reading, despite also intermittent fasting and being pretty active (which both can help speed up getting into ketosis).
At the end of the day, in my opinion, I'd say it doesn't really matter. If you are eating low carbs (around that 20g mark) you will more than likely be in ketosis.
Positives I have found from being on a Ketogenic diet
I have found mentally I can run just as well off a poor sleep as I can a decent sleep. I honestly put most of that down to ketosis. Supposedly the brain can run more efficiently on ketones (it is the only other energy substrate the brain can use other than glucose)
Much easier to hit my calories because food volume is decreased so much
No real lull of energy at any point in the day
Mood has tended to stay very stable
Nails, hair and skin appears to have improved
As we age, the brain gets less and less efficient at using glucose for energy. Ketones is a way of mitigating these effects. It has been linked to helping with conditions such as Alzheimers.
Negatives I have found from being on a Ketogenic diet
Dizzy spells, breathlessness, heart palpitations. These are not nice (duh). Like I said, I have found they can be remedied with electrolytes. But if you get like this and it really puts you off, then don't go keto.
Calorific foods can all of a sudden take you to the calories for the day. That can make a day feel very, very long. So just be careful of consuming too much fat in one sitting. Space it out as I mentioned before.
Foods can get quite boring. It can become quite monotonous eating. Same old foods day in day out. Luckily my partner is very, very good at making imaginative dishes. She was able to keep some variety in our diet.
Science says that Ketogenic diets are no better than any other diet in terms of losing fat. So long as you are in a deficit, you will lose fat, no matter what protocol you follow.
For me and my partner, we really liked keto. It suits us. We take into account metabolic flexibility, making sure we do take on carbs at different parts of the year to make sure the body stays 'metabolically flexible'. It's not something we will indefinitely follow, but it's something we will probably utilise for the majority of the year, and have periods of using carbs at other times.
Do consider, we are each individuals. It might not suit you. In that case, don't do it. Pretty simple really.
More things that may help you if you are interested in a Ketogenic diet
Foods that I've found useful on a ketogenic diet
Any meats/fish - Very hard to go wrong with meat. Fish is good as it contains a lot of omegas. Do take it easy with fish because of mercury levels. Salmon tends to contain lower levels of mercury. Sardines are good also.
Eggs - Brilliant.
Spiralina - Vegan, and high in protein. Lots of micronutrients.
Avocados - With a bit of olive oil and lemon is a personal favourite. A medium sized avocado will contain about 200 calories consisting of healthy fats, very little protein and carbs, and some fibre too.
Cheese - Very hard to go wrong with cheese (I know I said no milk, but personally I've found cheese fine. A lot of people advocate limiting cheese though, so do bear that in mind if you don't feel you are getting into ketosis).
Nuts - Especially peanuts, are brilliant. They have a very fatty profile, but also quite high in protein and fibre. Look at the labels for peanut butter, some of them have tonnes of carbohydrates in for flavouring! Lots of healthy fats. Almonds are also good (you can get almond butters which are tasty). Cashews tend to be quite carbohydrate based, so do watch out for other nuts in that respect. I don't know what the other nuts are like as I haven't looked into them (I'm allergic to most except peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds. I know, weird right?).
Protein Supplements - Supplementing your protein intake with whey, soy or any other protein product is fine. Just remember don't have too much protein as it'll kick you out of ketosis.
Mushrooms - They are a real staple for me, they contain barely any carbs. Chuck in as many as you like.
Asparagus, broccoli, spinach, artichokes, anything dark green really - Tends to contain less carbs, and more micronutrients (minerals, vitamins, fibre).
But Ben, I'm vegetarian!
Not a problem, most of those suggestions there will contain enough protein and fats to keep you in ketosis.
Ben, I'm vegan
This is a little tougher. From what I understand, a heavy reliance on supplements will be required. Go here for some ideas. A quick google will bring up a tonne of other ideas as well.
Do I have to stay in ketosis all the time?
On a weekly basis, I'd suggest trying to stay in ketosis. It can take around 2-3 days if you've come out of ketosis to come back in, depending on how many carbs you've eaten, depending on your genetics, depending on your activity levels, depending on how long you've been in ketosis (many things).
Some people have suggested that even going into ketosis for periods of a year will be enough to reap a lot of the benefits I have mentioned. 3 months has been what I have read/heard about. The necessity to stay in ketosis I would argue is not there. Do it for periods of a year, I think that would be totally acceptable, unless you find you are more than happy sticking with it, which I'd also argue is totally acceptable.
There are lots of other protocols to follow, where carbs get used at certain times and so forth. I'm sticking with the straight forward keto, for now. I will experiment with them another time and give you my feedback on those next year I imagine!
What about cheat meals?
Personally I have used these. Supposedly it's a good way to spike insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity, therefore burn more fat. I normally have 1 cheat meal a week. It keeps me happy (although, admittedly, I am more than happy sticking with keto). Be careful of going overboard (which I have done), it kicked me hard out of ketosis and my mood changed dramatically. If you find you can't be careful with these, best avoid having a cheat meal. Perhaps a cheat snack instead.
What are exogenous ketones?
These are supplemental ketones. I haven't personally used these, so I can't recommend any products I'm afraid. But, it's supposed to be easier to get into ketosis using these. If you find you have consumed too many carbs, it may bring you back into ketosis quicker using these.
I hope this has covered some questions you might have about ketogenic diets! If you have any questions, do always give me a shout.
Thanks for reading!